I’ve been busy poring over metrics from NSIP after submitting my lambs’ sixty-day weights. This helps me decide which sheep to keep versus let go; which ones are worth selling, versus which ones should be culled or sold as unregistered pets.

A lot of people lament to me that it’s hard to sell breeding sheep for a good price. I suspect that a terse “sheep for sale” craigslist ad doesn’t cut the mustard when marketing registered animals. For my sale sheep, I take the time to post a photo, pedigree, NSIP metrics and a short description on my website. I can email a link to any folks who have expressed interest in buying in the last several months.

imageI follow all sheep and lamb ads on craigslist nearly every day, just to keep an eye on prices and what’s out there. Sometimes I’m in the market for sheep myself. Most of the ads I see do not pull me in. If it’s just an anonymous ad, I’m always leery, wondering, if you aren’t willing to say your name or your farm name, are you very proud of your offerings? Who are you, anyway? Many people simply extoll on the virtues of their chosen sheep breed in their ad, but provide no information about the specific sheep they are selling, or anything about their farm or breeding program.

I try to design ads around what I like to know when I am sheep shopping. First off, I always want to see a good photo of the sheep standing naturally. Not bolting at a dead run, or napping or something! Winking smile Though, I know this is hard to do. I take my camera out with me daily for several days in order to get chances to capture each lamb standing casually. My choice of gigantic ear tags is a boon here, because I can easily see their numbers in photos on my computer, making it simple to sort a batch of random shots. I prefer to see sheep standing on their own, versus being manually “stacked” and held. I know from years of dog showing that one can hide any number of physical faults with skillful manipulation of an animal in a show pose. And wily sheep can also look awful when someone is trying to wrestle them to stand still.

I want to read the pedigree of sheep I’m considering for purchase. The whole pedigree, not just the sire and dam’s info. For folks who have no NSIP metrics (which is everyone with Katahdins, in our state) I like to know the lambing history of the dam; and ideally the sire’s dam- did she lamb as a yearling? What is her twinning rate? Has she raised them all herself? Has she lost any before weaning?

I’d like to know the birth and weaning weights of the lambs, timageheir birth dates, the dam age, and birth type (single, twin, triplet) of the lamb; so that I can calculate the average daily gain (ADG) and adjusted weight. (Ideally, the breeder would have calculated and provided this already, but I’ve never run across anyone else who does.)

I also want to know about the farm. Now that I’m in the OPPV testing club, I prefer to buy from others who also do whole-flock testing; but I will consider buying from someone who is willing to test the sheep I’m interested in. For rams, if I’m going to pay top dollar, they must be RR at codon 171, meaning they will pass scrapie resistance on to all of their lambs. I want to know how the animals are fed at the farm, because I’d prefer to buy from someone who has a similar management system to mine. I like to know generally what  are the goals of the breeding program, so I can understand if they align with mine.

Good record keeping is also really important to me. I want a seller to inspire my confidence that they have kept accurate breeding and registration records. I’ve run across folks who half-admit they’ve fudged on registrations in a moment of confusion over who-bred-whom, or from years of lapsed records. Large flocks with single ear tags make me wonder, what happens when several lambs lose their tags? Some people claim they have photo backups for identifying sheep; and that may work ok for spotted sheep. But I wouldn’t be confident in this method for differentiating any solid-colored sheep; I always get a bunch of all-white and all-brown ones that pretty much look the same. For anyone who’s got more than a dozen lambs, I’d feel better if I see two tags on every lamb, so there is no question that they could ever get mixed up.

Knowing the pedigree (for sure) is fairly important, especially rams. I enter a potential ram’s pedigree into my database and let the software tell me if he’s going to have an inbreeding coefficient with any of my ewes. I’m surprised at how often I don’t spot a common ancestor in a pedigree until the software points it out to me. And it’s surprising how many common ancestors there can be, even with sheep which come from across the country. Since rams are a big investment, I’d rather have a “fresh” one that’s completely unrelated to my ewes, so I have the flexibility to line-breed on him a little bit myself before I can’t use him any more.

Because I like to pore over data, I love it when I can read about sheep on someone’s website before I drive to their place to choose one. There is nothing worse than being presented with a pen of similar-looking sheep, and thinking, eegads! I’m just randomly picking one under time pressure! Even emailed data can get confusing, if you’re trying to compare several sheep, photos and sets of data. Thus, I assume other buyers like to browse as much as I do, so I give them the ability on my website. Though there is some time investment up-front to post all this info, I believe it reduces the Q&A time I have to spend with each buyer later. My favorite type of sale is when someone has found everything they need on my website in order to make a purchase decision, and they just mail a deposit and contact me to set up a pickup time.